May 08, 1978 12:00 PM

A dress with pockets to hold six babies? The idea might sell well among mothers of sextuplets, and then there’s the pet kangaroo market…Yet for all the time Vera Leonard, 69, a nurse in the Wesley Long Hospital of Greensboro, N.C., was perfecting her pocketed smock, she kept it a secret until she could get it patented. With good reason, as it turned out. The garment, which she calls an “evacuation gown,” grew out of a nightmare that has troubled Vera for years: How could she get all of the infants out of the hospital nursery if fire or some other disaster struck? “You’d be faced with choosing whom to save,” she says. And that would be unfaceable.

So Mrs. Leonard and her sister, Treva Ellis, who are triplets (their sister died in infancy), collaborated on designing the gown, a heavy duck pullover with six 18-inch pockets—roomy enough for the heftiest newborns. Mrs. Ellis, an expert seamstress, whipped up six and, in a test, they worked flawlessly. “We can get all the babies out in about three minutes,” says inventor Leonard.

Vera knows about handling babies. After 30 years of service in the hospital nursery, she has acted as mother pro tern for 50,000 infants. She and her husband, Percy, a retired mail carrier, are the parents of seven children and grandparents of 21. And presciently, way back in 1954, Vera was honored as Greensboro’s Mother of the Year.

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